Once the Christmas holidays have been archived and (perhaps) all the calories accumulated with struffoli, pastiere and roccocò have been disposed of. The Neapolitan now looks ahead. It’s almost time for Carnival, where every dish, every delicious treat counts.
What is Carnival?
The celebration of Carnival in Naples has very ancient origins. The Marquis Giovan Battista del Tufo in a work from the sixteenth century, said that the disguise was an exclusive celebration of the Neapolitan aristocracy who participated in tournaments and dances at the Aragonese Court.
But in the 1600s something changed; the masks had begun to fascinate the people, encouraging butchers, fishmongers and farmers to organize a Carnival of the people. So the ancient Carnival of Naples had a double face, one more noble and aristocratic, the other more simple and popular.
The most glorious period for the Carnival was with the Bourbons, when it was celebrated with allegorical floats filled with food, meats and cheeses, often subject to violent looting by the hungry Neapolitan people. Since the sacking of the allegorical floats often caused accidents, King Charles of Bourbon established that the allegorical floats, instead of crossing the city streets, had to be set up in the wide space of the Palace, and had to be carefully supervised. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the allegorical floats were replaced by the “albero della cuccagna” or soap pole, which was made slippery with soap, in order to make it more difficult for the competitors to climb up to the delicacies placed at the top. The goal of the game was the eating binge that in Naples was the practice of the people to satiate themselves abundantly before the long Lenten fast.
Little by little the celebrations of the Carnival were reduced to local festivals.
On a carnival float sat a fat Carnival always adorned with hams and provoloni cheese, accompanied by women in tears because of his poor health, who recited the sad diagnoses of the doctors of the three most popular districts (Mercato, Porto and Pendino) to which they alternated a general good wish for a long life: “E vuje ca l’avite visto st’anno/lu puzzate vedé ‘a ccà a cient’anne” (“and you who have seen it this year, may you see it from here to a hundred years”). Then there was the intervention of “‘O mast’ ‘e festa” (“the master of the feast”) who used to go around the stores to scrape together something as a refund for the expenses incurred.
Today of this Carnival, so celebrated, very little remains, apart from the disguises of children and some events organized in the city. But in the kitchen, Neapolitans never miss a chance to show off their rich gastronomy.
Let’s take a look…
The protagonist is lasagna, sheets of fresh pasta filled with a rich ragout of pork and meatballs, a dish that requires time and patience. The main ingredient, in fact, is just the meat sauce, strictly pork. The filling of the lasagna is made with sheep ricotta cheese, salami, hard-boiled eggs, fior di latte cheese and a sprinkling of grated cheese.
The lasagna is then baked in the oven until a golden crust forms on the surface.
The second consists, then, in a mix of meat sauce, pork ribs, chops, sausages and so on and so forth.
According to tradition, roasted chicken livers (particularly delicious if fried with pork fat), friarielli and a mix of cold cuts are also prepared.
Now it’s time to go wild with dessert…or rather, desserts!
Have you ever heard of “sanguinaccio”? But what is it? How is it prepared?
Let’s go and ask for help to the writer and Neapolitanist Amedeo Colella, who in his book “Mille Paraustielli di cucina napoletana” (among the 5 books on the cuisine of Southern Italy – recommended by Gazzetta dello Sport) tells us a little bit of the story.
Sanguinaccio… why? Once upon a time, the recipe called for fresh pig’s blood among the ingredients, because in the first months of the year it was a tradition to kill the pig and we all know that… you can’t throw anything away. Since 1992, the sale of pig’s blood to the public has been banned, so either you have your pig or you settle for a dark chocolate cream (and I would say, that’s good and right).
So sanguinaccio by the spoonful or smeared on chiacchiere, or even worse on savoiardo that dies drowned in the sanguinaccio. Yes, let’s drown the Savoyard, in revenge for the Savoy invasion of the Kingdom of Naples. Serves him right!
Let’s get back to the other Carnival sweets: the chiacchiere. Delicious nastrine, strips of crispy dough that are prepared fried or baked (for those who are on a diet), the graffa (soft fried doughnut made of flour and potatoes, then dipped in sugar), and migliaccio.
Migliaccio… do you know what it is? The name derives from millet, a type of semolina used in the past for regional cookies and cakes, later replaced with durum wheat semolina. This typical cake is made with semolina and ricotta cheese flavored with lemon. In the days preceding Shrove Tuesday, mothers and grandmothers begin the preparation, following an ancient recipe handed down from generation to generation. Migliaccio has a taste more or less similar to that of pastiera, of which it is unjustly considered the poor relative.
Last, but not least: Lenten cookies! Prepared in the convent during the period of Lent, they were so simple and low in fat that they were almost not considered sweets. A bit sad, we admit, but this is precisely because as it is known “Quaraesema secca se magnava ‘a pacca secca” that is, during Lent only dried fruit was eaten, no sweets.
I think … reading about all these delicious treats, you have a great desire to visit Naples during the Carnival period. Well, we are here… to organize your trip in every detail, including culinary experiences. The only recommendation… leave your diet at home!